First, Second, & Third Down Issues: A Closer Look


Aug 10, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions offensive tackle Jeff Backus (76), quarterback Matthew Stafford (9), tight end Brandon Pettigrew (87), and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) in a huddle with teammates during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

After being swept by the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, Lions fans are left scratching their heads, wondering if this team is any good or just flat out frauds.  The Lions find themselves sitting at 4-5 and more importantly, 0-3 in the NFC North.

There are many phases of the game to point the finger at: Slow starts from the offense, patchwork secondary, not enough pressure on the quarterback from the d-line, poor run game, coaching gaffes, etc etc.

One specific area that I looked into was the horrible 3rd down efficiency.  The Lions finished the game 1-9 on 3rd down and the lone conversion came with 3:44 left in the game.

After sorting through my notes from the 2011 season, I noticed that the Lions faired pretty well on 3rd down vs the Vikings.  In a week 3 showdown at the Metrodome last season, the Lions finished 7-17 on 3rd down.  In their week 14 matchup at Ford Field, the Lions finished 8-16 on 3rd down.  What’s unique is, in both the 2011 matchups, the Lions did not do well on 1st down.  They averaged 0.85 ypc (yards per carry) & 9.13 ypa (yards per attempt) in week 3.  And in week 14, they averaged 3.57 ypc (yards per carry) & 4.92 ypa (yards per attempt).  Both games resulted in a win for the Lions.

So what’s the big difference one might ask?  I took a look at the Lions on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down in their two losses to the Vikings.  I also took a look at what was happening on special teams for any contributing factors.

In a week 4 loss, the Lions averaged 2.8 ypc (yards per carry) & 5.44 ypa (yards per attempt).  The team’s average distance to go on 2nd down was 8.42 yards.  Of the team’s 16 total 3rd downs, 9 required 7 or more yards.

In a week 10 loss, the Lions averaged a whopping 4.3 ypc (yards per carry) & 11.2 ypa (yards per attempt).  The team’s average distance to go on 2nd down was 9.05 yards.  Of the team’s 9 total 3rd downs, 7 required 7 or more yards.  It is asking a lot for an offense to consistently convert 3rd down & long situations throughout a game.  As a result, the offense produces no rhythm, and you wind up with stalled drives and frustration.

Something else I noticed is the advantage the Vikings had on special teams.  The Lions average starting field position in their week 10 loss was their own 20.  The rookie kicker blasted kicks into the endzone all afternoon.  The Vikings starting field position was their own 39!  Those 19 yards are huge when you look at it over the course of a game.

The Lions will need to get back to converting their 3rd down opportunities going forward.  They performed beautifully on 3rd down for two consecutive weeks heading into their week 10 re-match with the Vikings.  The offense was a combined 20-28 in 3rd down efficiency during those games.  If this team can get back to that type of efficiency, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll see different results.  It starts with the visiting Green Bay Packers this week.